Angola: Freedom of expression under threat

Freedom of expression in Angola is being stifled. Since full-scale war resumed in December 1998 the Angolan authorities have increasingly used legal procedures to arrest, question and intimidate journalists, apparently with the intention of silencing criticism. At the same time, the authorities have failed to fulfil their legal obligations to protect the physical integrity of media workers and others and to investigate the cases of those who have received death threats or who have been physically assaulted or murdered. Angolan government authorities have claimed that some media reports relating to the war have endangered public order or security or the good name of the state. No state of exception has been declared and no exceptional measures to restrict the right to freedom of expression have been imposed in law. However, the authorities have invoked various laws in a manner which appears to contravene the guarantees on freedom of expression and information provided by Angola's Constitution and by international human rights treaties to which Angola is a party. Since the signing of the Peace Accords for Angola in 1991, various independent publications and radio stations have emerged. They have operated under a climate of repression which has increased during periods of fighting, for example during the fighting between 1992 and 1994 and since late 1998. The war in Angola is causing unimaginable suffering. The armed opposition União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, is besieging and shelling cities. About 1.7 million people have been displaced by the fighting in recent years and some five million are in need of humanitarian assistance but aid agencies are unable to reach many of them. The right to freedom of expression is essential to enable Angolans to know what is happening in their country and to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the resolution of its problems, including the causes and conduct of the war and issues such as the pervasive corruption in Angola. Denial of the right to freedom of expression can only serve the interests of those who violate international human rights and humanitarian law and who survive on corruption. This report reflects the escalation of restraints on the media and examines the accusations leveled against journalists under charges, which are often so broadly formulated as to make them difficult to rebut, and analyses the use of legal procedures in the light of international human rights standards. It makes recommendations for bringing Angolan law and practice into conformity with international standards. It calls on the authorities to take immediate and urgent steps to guarantee the free exercise of the right to freedom of expression, to protect the integrity and security of journalists and media workers, and to bring to justice those suspected of threatening or assaulting media workers. The failure to take these steps acts as a green light to those who may have political or personal grudges against journalists.

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